Thoughts on crowds

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Last week we had a story about the crowds on trails along the Sun Road ó 50,000 people hiked the Hidden Lake Trail last July alone, Avalanche Lake Trail saw 42,000, the Highline Trail 30,000 and Iceberg Lake Trail had 20,000 visitors.

Those numbers may seem startling, but the Park Service is good at doing a lot of hand wringing about crowds, while facilitating them in the same breath.

How so?

There is absolutely no way 50,000 people hike the Hidden Lake Trail in a month if the Park Service doesnít provide a free shuttle to Logan Pass. The parking lot only holds about 250 cars and the red buses, while they stop at the pass, donít sit there long enough for someone to get much farther than the visitor center, nevermind hike the trail.

But the shuttle drops people off at the pass starting bright and early at 7 a.m. and continues to do so into the evening. If youíve ever hiked up to Granite Park via the Loop early in the morning, or camped there overnight, you can almost set your watch by the first busload of hikers as they come to the chalet, discover their cell phones work, and start texting and chatting on the phone.

Sorry folks, but it really isnít a backcountry experience when 50 to 100 people are standing around the chalet, gabbing on their phones.

In the ďoldĒ days ó about 10 years ago before the shuttle ó you could enjoy a pleasant hike down the Highline Trail without several hundred of your close friends, provided you got up to the pass in time to nab a parking spot.

But in the old days, a lot of people didnít hike to Granite Park, because it required two cars unless you were willing to turn around and hike back ó about a 15 mile day.

Parking, or lack thereof, controlled the crowds.

The shuttle, of course, changed all that.

And the Park Service, at least the upper echelon, quite frankly, doesnít seem all that concerned about the impacts. When Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell visited the Hidden Lake Trail during the Obama Administration she was asked about how the Park Service could control crowds. She hemmed and hawed a little bit, but the bottomline, even back then, was that the Park Service wants people to visit and it wants the crowds.

The shuttle was originally sold to the public as a way to get private motor vehicles off the Sun Road. That didnít really happen. It just overloaded some of the popular trails. (The Iceberg Lake Trail obviously isnít impacted by the shuttle, but crowds there arenít really all that surprising, considering the number of parking spaces available at Many Glacier).

Having said all that, the Park Service isnít going to get rid of the shuttle. Itís too popular and that genie ainít going back into the bottle. Thereís also an obvious economic force at work, too. Crowds might be bad for solitude, but they are good for business.

My concern is that the shuttle will be further expanded ó to places like Many Glacier, Two Medicine, Marias Pass and the Belly River. And hey, why not Polebridge?

If you think crowds are bad in Glacier now, just wait.

Chris Peterson is the editor of the Hungry Horse News.

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